Saturday, July 27, 2013

The hardest, most humid race yet

Photo courtesy of Anne
Here's a great shot of some awesome Frunners at El Scorcho. Many ran ES, too, and others were there for the fun. The scene at Trinity Park is beyond compare. It's a party. Consider adding El Scorcho to your race schedule. You won't regret it.
Approximately two years ago, when I started this whole endurance athlete journey, I had no idea what an ultramarathon was. A marathon was the farthest thing I knew about, and I was training for the 2011 MetroPCS White Rock Marathon (now named the Dallas Marathon). To me, 26.2 miles was the ultimate. Just as ancient man thought the world was flat, I accepted that no one ran farther than 26.2 miles. It was a fact.

The running community on Twitter quickly introduced me to people with "ultra" in their names (whaddup, UltraDrum and UltraNinjaRunnr!!!). I had no clue what the "ultra" meant. I didn't know that it signified some major mileage — anything over 26.2 miles, often 50K (31 miles), 60K (37 miles) 50 miles and 100 miles. These impressive athletes dispelled my notions that no one ran longer than 26.2. Even though I knew it was possible, it didn't interest me at all. A marathon was tough enough for me. Why add another 5 miles?

Photo courtesy of That Pink Girl
That's my sister, Anne, rockin' the Frunner-brand jingle skirt. She signed up to volunteer and to be a spectathlete. Prerace, everyone is all smiles!
Well, as it turns out, the more you do anything, the more you yearn for a new challenge. And after running three marathons, I figured why not run a 50K. But not just any 50K. No, my first would be the wildly unorthodox El Scorcho. Now in its seventh year, ES started as Ryan Valdez's birthday celebration — run 30 miles on his 30th birthday. The only problem, as this Fort Worth Star-Telegram story notes, was that his birthday is in the middle of July, when temperatures burst well above 100 degrees. So, to up the ante, the race would be held at midnight on the he 5K course of crushed limestone, asphalt and concrete at Trinity Park in Fort Worth.

The annual race is now a legend in the running community. The wild race atmosphere, unorthodox start time and 25K and 50K distances attract 500 racers. This year's race sold out in two days, so I felt fortunate that I would get to compete in this race, which raises funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  

TPG and I headed to Funkytown on Saturday afternoon to pick up the packets from Fort Worth Running Company, hit up the Pearl Izumi Factory Store, spend quality time at the park during daylight and check into our hotel room and SLEEP! This, we thought, was the best way to approach ES — have a place to bank some sleep before the race and have a place to clean up and rest after the race. It proved to be a genius move.

We woke up around 9 p.m. and performed normal, morning routines — getting dressed, having breakfast. One of us (guess who?) sprayed pink stripes into his/her hair.

See the pink stripes? They lasted all night, too!
We headed to the race site about a mile from our hotel room. The car was loaded with stuff — rolling cooler with refreshments, shopping bag of food and supplies, extra gear in bags and the most comfortable camp chairs. I know what you're thinking: that's a lot of stuff for a race. Yeah, but remember, it's 50K (10 loops) and 25K (5 loops), so you never know what you might need during after completing a lap. And friends huddle at the campsites prerace, during the race and postrace, so creature comforts are key. It also doesn't hurt if you have a "powah monkey" hanging around, too.

Photo courtesy TPG
The dapper dude with Mama C? His name's Joaquin, and he's the badass Frunner mascot. 
It was so much fun hanging out with friends prerace — laid-back, chill, no pressure or nervousness, that I pretty much forgot about the race. Then the race director called over the speaker for 50K racers. I rushed to the start line, received some last-minute encouragement and advice, and at 12:01 a.m., we were off.

The course was mostly flat, but the mix of terrain, especially the crushed limestone, presented me with a tough shoe choice: the wear lighter, springy, less-supportive Adidas Energy Boost, or go with the tried-and-true, supportive, cushioned Asics GT-2160. While the Adidas have treated me well (massive half-marathon PR at Irving Marathon) and I've used them as my primary shoe for the past few months, I opted for the support of the Asics, which I realized was the right choice just one mile into the race.

The loop was really nice — flat (only one significant hill) and not too treacherous (some holes and cracks here and there, which the ES team marked with red glow sticks). For the first couple of laps, I ran alongside and behind a few fellow 50Kers. Then the speedy 25Kers zoomed by and the trail became more congested for the next two laps. It was fun seeing these fellow runners having a great time late at night — some wearing costumes, many with glow-stick necklaces and bracelets. I didn't wear anything fun. I used a Petzl headlamp (very helpful for the darkest sections of the course) and wore my cycling sunglasses with the clear lenses (another good choice with the dust being kicked up and bugs flying around).

The first five laps were solid. I ran those 5Ks at an 8:40 to 9:15 pace. I did 25K in 2:24, which I thought I could maintain for the next three laps and possibly run a negative split for the last two laps. I stopped to reload on Endurolytes and water (my friends did an awesome job helping me with all night). But then my stomach became a problem. Considering most races and my training occur in the morning, I wasn’t used to running with a full day of food in my stomach. My stomach wasn't used to having my typical breakfast — oatmeal and coffee — at 9 p.m. I had a feeling nature would call at some point during the race. But it was worse than that. Let's just say I didn't expect her to call often or be so mean.

The back half of the race wasn’t pretty. I had to relieve myself in the woods and sacrifice my shirt for toilet paper on the seventh or eighth lap. Before the final lap, I stopped to chat with friends and refill my water bottle and put some bland food in my stomach. I collapsed with the worst cramp in my inner thigh. Fortunately, my friend Erin, a skilled massage therapist who owns her own company (Massage by Erin) and is training for the Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose, was on hand and offered to help me. I was a pathetic mess — cramping hard, increasingly dehydrated from my bout with stomach distress and having TPG feed me pretzels. Fortunately, the cramping was quelled and I started to feel capable of running just as Smashmouth's "All Star" came on over the loud speaker. Just so you know, this might be one of my least favorite songs in the history of ever (there's a story, but it's too long for this post).

Anyway, I hopped up, cracked wise about not wanting to listen to another second of the tune, and started my final lap with the best company — TPG. She had finished her 25K and insisted on seeing me through what proved to be a tough final lap. I had to make two pit stops in the woods, using my race bib and leaves en lieu of Charmin. It effin’ sucked, and I wasn't in the best mood. Fortunately TPG's company helped. I turned off my iPod and just focused on running as she motivated me to push forward with her encouraging words and frame of mind. We passed landmarks on the loop and she would say, "Last time you have to see that ______ tonight).

That half-naked blur is me, relieved to be finished: 5:37:20, 19th out of 50 male 50Kers.
Back at the hotel: Feeling accomplished and stoked about taking a shower and going to sleep!
It took me more than 40 minutes to run/walk/crap that last 5K. It was a good experience, and I’m stronger for finishing. There were several times when my mind told me I wanted to quit. And even though I felt like crap, I knew I didn't need to quit. So I didn't. I pushed through. And I'm pleased with that.

We are all stronger than we think we are. El Scorcho reminded me just how true that is. I look forward to racing it again. Maybe next time I'll do the 25K so I can wear a jingle skirt and have fun being a rowdy Frunner and supporting others as they find out just how strong they are.